Rhythms of time

A significant change that took place from the Sangita Ratnakara period was the move from shifting tonic and fixed svara interval system of music to that of a fixed tonic and variable svara interval system. The seeds of change were sown even in the Ratnakara but we cannot be sure when the complete transformation happened. We find, in many treatises, a sense of confusion about this change, but by the 15th century the basis of Indian classical music had changed forever.

From the early 1400s, the contribution of the Haridasas of the Kannada speaking region towards musical changes was invaluable and it’s important for us to understand their work. Like the Tamizh Saivite saints from the 7th or 8th century, the Haridasas used music as a vehicle to spread the message of dvaita philosophy in Kannada. The music of the Haridasa was born out of the Desi Tradition (discussed earlier) and we will see the connection and analyse the same.

What were the ragas used by the Haridasas? Most manuscripts available mention modern ragas, which did not exist at that time to the compositions. Therefore we need to look at the theoretical texts of the same period to get our answers.

At the time of the Haridasa movement, some important treatises included the Svaramela Kalanidhi by Ramamatya, Pundarika Vittala’s Sandragachandrodaya and other treatises. We also find a mention of a Sangitasara of Vidyaranya through the later work of Govinda Dikshita’s Sangita Sudha. Therefore an analysis of the ragas in these treatises gives us an idea of the ragas that were possibly used in the compositions. Many of these ragas are still used in Carnatic music.

Tala system

An important contribution of the Haridasas is the regularising of the tala system. From the numerous Desi talas, they reorganised the tala system into the seven major talas, each with fixed counts: suladi sapta tala i.e. jampa (10), matya (14), dhruva (10), triputa (7), atta (14), eka (4) and rupaka (6). Though these seem similar to those used in Carnatic music today, there are some aspects we need to understand. First, laghu and druta were only time units and independent of the actions that were used to show the tala. The laghu was one matra duration (a notional duration to utter four short syllables) and the dhruta was half that. There was also an extension to each of these called a viraama, which measured to quarter duration of a laghu; although according to some, the viraama augmented the value of the time-unit to which it was attached by half its value. The Viraama probably transformed into the anudhruta. Today, all these are angas to a tala, which are divisions with certain counts. Secondly we are not sure about how these were actually demonstrated in terms of actions or movements. Two other talas used by the Haridasas are jhompata (a desi tala) and Raganamatya.

The Suladi was a unique musical form composed only by the Haridasa saints, which evolved from the Salaga Suda (prabandha). The suladi has verses where each is in one of the seven suladi talas. Not all the talas need to be in every suladi but at least five are found in each suladi. Even Raganmatya tala is used occasionally. Starting from Sripadaraya, all the Haridasas composed in this form. Sometimes ragas and even talas are not prescribed to the rendition of Suladis. Interestingly the only available notated Suladis (composed by Purandara Dasa) are the three available in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904). From this notation we find that these compositions are more structured on the basis of the talas.

Another form that was used by the Haridasas was the vrittanama, which again seems to have evolved from the prabandhas of Desi music. This is the form that alternates between verses sung without tala and those sung with a tala structure.

Similarly ugabhogas, which were verses sung to ragas, are like vrithams. The difference being that they are not set to any metre and each line can be of variable length. Most ugabogas don’t have prescribed ragas.

Tamizh origins

Scholars believe that the Haridasas were the pioneers of the pada form. The pada form had a structure of a pallavi and multiple charanas or in the pallavi anupallavi charana structure. This nomenclature of Pallavi, Anupallavi, charana comes from the later use and is not given in any treatise or manuscript of the period under discussion. The pallavi is usually a two-line structure followed by verses of four lines, which we call charana. Sometimes there is an anupallavi. The only way to decipher the anupallavi from poetry is by the presence of dvitiakshara prasa, which is the sound concordance of the second syllable of the first line of the pallavi with the second syllable of the first line of the Anupallavi. While this seems a logical method we cannot be completely sure whether it was sung as an anupallavi or as multiple charanas. The very concept of dvitiakshara prasa is also related to Tamizh poetry, as this is not found in older Sanskrit/Kannada/Telugu literature. It does seem that the Haridasas also used the same pada form for shringara texts, which were called gopigitas.

The Haridasa Pada is sometimes linked to the salaga suda (prabandha) form. The pallavi, anupallavi and charana structure is associated with the parts of the prabandha namely udgraha, melapaka and dhruva structure and the last line associated with the Abhoga. Since there is no prasa structure in Prabandha or any other relationship between the pada and the prabandha this probably requires more serious research and analysis. It is possible that the pada form independently evolved.

Other musical forms of compositions used by the Haridasas were dandaka, koravanji, gadya etc. The main musical contributors among the Haridasas were Shripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa.

At the same time, in the region of Tirupati, we find an enormous musical contribution from Annamacharya and later poets. Annamacharya is said to have composed 32,000 sankirtanas. His son Peda Tirumalacharya got them inscribed in copper plates in the Tirupati temple but some of the copper plates are said to have gone to Ahobila and to Thanjavur. Today, including the sankirtanas of Peda Tirumalacharya and his son Cina Tirumalacharya, we have a total of 14,523 sankirtanas by Tallapakam poets. Annamacharya has also composed the Venkatachalamahaatmya in Sanskrit and Ramayana in dvipada metre in Telugu. Ragas are mentioned for the sankirtanas in the copper plates in Tirupati.

The sankirtanas again were either in the pallavi/anupallavi/charana structure or a pallavi/charana structure to use today’s nomenclature. As mentioned earlier, the understanding of an anupallavi’s presence is only on the basis of dvitiakshara prasa. Some scholars believe Annamacharya was the pioneer in giving the pallavi a structured form of two lines of equal magnitude.

The terms pada and keertana seem to be used synonymously in this period and it’s only later that we have come to associate the shringara content with Padam and Bhakthi content with Keertana. Some also attribute the pada/keertana form to Narayana Theertha and Muthu Tandavar, but other sources link the Narayana Theertha tarangams to the prabandha tradition and we also cannot be sure about the period of Muthuthandavar. Irrespective of these differences in views we can conclude that there must have been lot of movement of musical and poetic forms in the land of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Originally written for The Hindu

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